Office of Communications

Posted on: September 1, 2017

Maricopa County works to combat opioid epidemic

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During National Recovery Month, Maricopa County is highlighting its work with community organizations and other agencies to help combat and bring awareness to the opioid epidemic.

Across the nation, there were at least 60 thousand deaths related to opioid use last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has called this the worst drug overdose epidemic in our history.

In Arizona, we’ve seen a 74% increase of opioid overdose deaths over the past 4 years.

In response to this epidemic, Governor Doug Ducey declared a Public Health State of Emergency in June. Among other things, he called for more responsible prescribing practices; greater access to treatment; enhanced distribution of naloxone (which often goes by the brand name Narcan), a drug that can save the life of someone who has overdosed; and up-to-date reporting from government agencies regarding overdoses, deaths, and attempt to revive. The overarching goal is to reduce preventable deaths.

Maricopa County has been proactive in response.

"In Maricopa County, we’re doing everything we can to help people work through this difficult challenge whether they’re in our jails or on our streets," said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Denny Barney. "We’re doing what we can to provide support that will allow people to get back to being productive, contributing members of our community."

Maricopa County Public Health has coordinated our reports to the Governor’s Office of suspected opioid overdoses and administration of naloxone.

Maricopa County Correctional Health Services has been working to combat opioid addiction in our jails. In July 2017, more than 900 people in county custody admitted ongoing opioid use prior to incarceration. CHS has improved electronic health records and has trained all mental health and nursing staff to recognize and treat dependency. CHS, working with the Sheriff’s Office, uses best practices for screening, intervention and referral-to-treatment.

“Screening is probably our biggest thing when an inmate comes in here we’re screening them to identify those people of an opioid problem or an opioid misuse. Once we identify them, we can get them in the correct program, whatever we need to do,” said Shannon Sheel, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Director of Drug Initiatives and Drug Treatment program.

CHS also provides evidence-based substance abuse classes to qualified inmates, and works with community organizations to help inmates continue rehabilitation upon release. Some inmates are provided with Narcan, an overdose reversal medication, upon release. In jail, inmates may also be treated with Methadone or Vivitrol, used to reduce cravings.

“When people book into jail, we identify whether or not they are currently on some sort of medication assisted treatment like methadone,” said Dr. Dawn Noggle, Mental Health Director for Correctional Health Services. “For those people who are receiving that, we continue it while they’re in jail. Importantly we connect them with a provider that’s providing that service so that they will also be able to continue that treatment when they go out to the community.”

On our streets, Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies are also being trained to use Narcan.

“To say that we could eliminate it, that’s a long shot, but at least if we could slow the rate of people dying unnecessarily from it, make some neighborhoods safer for some of these kids,” said Maricopa County Sheriff Deputy Jason Speck. “Essentially this is just another piece of our first aid kit that could save our life or somebody else’s.”

The goal is to have all deputies trained.

“Especially in the more rural areas of the county and the state, it’s law enforcement that’s showing up before the paramedics, so we want to equip them to be able to save that life,” said Haley Coles, Sonoran Prevention Works Executive Director. “Giving a person a chance at surviving is really important because you can’t get sober if you’re dead.

If you or someone you know is dealing with an opioid problem, get help:

www.addictionpolicy.org/treatment

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help

https://www.mercymaricopa.org/

Other resources:

Real time statewide opioid data

Understanding the epidemic

National recovery month

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